Queen victoria

The naming of cats

All sorts of animals have been kept as pets over the centuries. We know of sparrows in Catullus and John Skelton. There is a badger with a collar in a fresco by Signorelli – probably not much more biddable than the lobster Gerard de Nerval supposedly took for walks in Paris. The word ‘puss’ seems not to have referred to cats before the late 19th century but to hares, either a pet one (William Cowper had three, of whom Puss was sweet-natured and Tiney ‘the surliest of his kind’), or one being hunted in Surtees. Dogs always occupied a special place, with names and a position in the household. Cats

After Queen Victoria, the flood

Alwyn Turner writes early on that Little Englanders is ‘an attempt to take the temperature of the nation as it emerged from a century that had dominated the world and was beginning – whether it knew it or not – a long process of decline’. Perhaps for that reason, or perhaps because the high (and low) politics of the years from 1901 to 1914 – the Edwardian era continues for four years after the death of the eponymous sovereign, up to the lights going out all over Europe in August 1914 – have been so exhaustively covered in recent years, he tells his readers that he will draw heavily on

America’s touching tributes to the Queen (1901)

The United States hasn’t always reacted rather snidely to the death of the British monarch. Below is The Spectator’s lead piece following the funeral of Queen Victoria in 1901, available on our fully-digitised archive. Nothing has been more striking, nothing more moving to the British as a nation, than the way in which the Queen has been mourned and her memory reverenced in the United States. The English-speaking people of America almost with one voice have joined the English-speaking people of the British Empire in their expressions of affection for the Queen. The outside world has wondered at the spectacle, and has asked how it comes about that a people

Stop tearing down controversial statues, says British-Guyanan artist Hew Locke

When Hew Locke was growing up in Guyana, he would pass by the statue of Queen Victoria in front of Georgetown’s law courts. Henry Richard Hope-Pinker’s 1894 statue had been commissioned to mark the monarch’s golden jubilee, but not long after Guyana became independent from British rule in 1970, the statue was beheaded and the remains thrown into bushes in the botanical gardens. ‘I remember being shocked that such a sacrilegious thing could happen,’ says the Edinburgh-born, Guyana-raised, London-based 62-year-old artist. ‘It set me thinking about what public statues are for. Who are these people? How come we pass by them without noticing every day?’ Half a century later and

The debt I owe to cannabis

Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Jeremy Hunt have all admitted that they tried cannabis as young adults. Neither the admission nor the THC psychoactive component of the drug, which makes you high, seem to have done them much harm in their pathways to successful careers in parliament. But a new governmental war on drugs is afoot which some fear may lead to unexpected consequences, and not just for those who ply their trade on street corners or draw up on Deliveroo-type scooters to supply cannabis as if it were a takeaway curry. I wouldn’t bet on everyone getting caught up in judicial dragnets, though; I imagine that middle-class consumers will

Should the Duke of Windsor have been tried for treason?

In Traitor King, Andrew Lownie shows how the Duke of Windsor — the former Edward VIII, who abdicated in 1936 — gave aid and comfort to his country’s enemies before and during the second world war. Reading this meticulously researched book, it seems extraordinary that he remained at liberty. A less deferential society would have interned him in 1940 along with the followers of his friend Oswald Mosley, most of whom were far less dangerous. He could even have been tried for treason after the war. To Lownie, the duke was an aberration, a one-off. But in Tea with Hitler, Dean Palmer shows us a family into which he fitted

Bigamists, lunatics and adventurers: the raucous world of 19th century British music

For a patriotic German in the decades before Bismarck, Britain’s power was an object of envy. But there was one thing, at least, that you could always hold over the Anglo-Saxons on their foggy little island. On 1 January 1837, Robert Schumann sat down in Leipzig to hear a new piano concerto by the 20-year-old William Sterndale Bennett. ‘An English composer; no composer,’ commented his neighbour, smugly, before the music started. Few 19th-century German music-lovers failed to point out that the land of Shakespeare had somehow failed to produce a single really significant composer since the late 17th century. We know how that story ended; and if you want to

Nothing can beat the romance of luxury train travel between the wars

There may never have been a murder on the real Orient Express, but otherwise Agatha Christie’s depiction of luxury train travel was pretty accurate. Cordon Bleu cooking, accompanied by fine vintage wines and served by immaculately turned out waiters, was offered to the first class passengers, who often included members of the aristocracy and senior diplomats. The Orient Express was inaugurated in 1883, just as the railways, both in the UK and elsewhere, were starting to realise that their more affluent customers were not only a key source of revenue but also deserved special attention. As Martyn Pring puts it: ‘Higher society was on the move, requiring more opulent and

The sea, the sea

Walking into Fingal’s Cave, after scrambling across the rocks to reach it from the landing stage where the boat from Mull arrives, is a strangely emotional experience. It’s not just the extraordinary landscape, the precise, almost unnatural shaping of the hexagonal basalt columns that rise up high above you, the screeching of gulls and roaring of the sea as it enters and leaves the cave. That’s enough to provoke a sense of wonder. But there’s also so much history attached to the place since it was discovered by the Romantics and became the epitome of the sentimental landscape, awesome in scale, and also quite frightening. Mendelssohn, Walter Scott and Turner

Some like it hot | 14 March 2019

Blame Kenneth MacMillan. The great Royal Ballet choreographer of the 1960s, 70s and 80s was convinced that narrative dance could and should extend its reach beyond boy meets sylph and began wrestling with heavyweight essay subjects such as the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire (Mayerling) or the last of the Romanovs (Anastasia). And now look: Queen Victoria, the pointe shoe years, a bold, good-looking ballet that almost triumphs over the absurdity of its premise. Cathy Marston’s latest work for Northern Ballet follows the success of her 2016 Jane Eyre, a spare, clever reworking of the novel that will be danced by American Ballet Theatre in New York this June. Victoria,

The Protestant passions of Queen Victoria: her biographer A.N. Wilson reveals all

Our guest on today’s Holy Smoke podcast is A.N. Wilson, author of a hugely admired biography of Queen Victoria and – as you’ll hear – the most mischievous intellectual in the land. Cristina Odone and I started out by asking about Victoria’s vigorous (and possibly whisky-fuelled) persecution of Anglo-Catholics in the Church of England: the Queen lobbied hard for the legislation that sent several of them to jail for popish “ritualism”. But that was the just the beginning of Wilson’s hilarious whistlestop tour of the passions and prejudices of Queen Victoria. Topics discussed: Victoria’s surprising liberalism (and indulgence towards actual Roman Catholics), the quasi-Victorian moralising of virtue-signalling students, the gentle but

Stitches in time

When Martha Ann Ricks was 76 she travelled from her home in Liberia to London to meet Queen Victoria. The daughter of a slave, who had purchased freedom for his family from his American owner and taken them to west Africa, she wanted to honour the Queen whom she believed had played a pivotal role in abolishing slavery. ‘She stoops,’ Ricks told a reporter from the Pall Mall Gazette of that meeting in a corridor at Windsor Castle on 16 July 1892, ‘and I don’t stoop though I’m older than her… But she has had troubles, great troubles. No wonder her shoulders are bent.’ Ricks considered herself fortunate that aged

Letters | 8 June 2017

Terrorists’ guilt Sir: A small contribution to the psychological war: when the next atrocity happens, could the BBC and other reputable news media please say that the Isis thugs have ‘admitted their guilt’ in respect of the murders rather than ‘claimed responsibility’ for them? The latter makes it sound like they might be expected to win a prize. Words matter. George Everard London SW1 Corbyn’s ‘principles’ Sir: With regard to Chris Mullin’s article (‘Corbyn for PM?’, 3 June), I disagree that Jeremy Corbyn has led a life consistent with his principles. As an avowed Marxist he clearly saw no future in the Communist party, so nailed his colours to Labour’s

Comic relief | 1 June 2017

In such times as these, enough to try a man’s soul, a dose of John Finnemore is advisable. His brand of comedy, as fans of Cabin Pressure will know, makes you laugh out loud (unlike, I fear, a lot of the programmes in that 6.30 p.m. slot on Radio 4). His quirky stabs at the absurdity of human nature are guaranteed to cheer even the most awful of days because they’re so simply drawn, etched in clear, sharp lines, and because they celebrate rather than bewail our frailties; life’s tendency to make you fall flat on your face just as you thought you were about to make it big time.

Letters | 1 June 2017

Ignoring the hadith Sir: Douglas Murray and Jenny McCartney (‘The known wolf’ and ‘A war on joy’, 27 May) are correct to cite hatred of women and young girls and fear of their independence as a trigger for terrorist violence — witness Malala Yousafzai. But it is of course not the only trigger since, denial notwithstanding, it is against the generic and non-gender-specific ‘infidel’ that the Koran fulminates. The prohibition said to exist against killing women and children in war is not found in the Koran (of divine infallibility) but in the hadith (of debatable provenance on a case-by-case basis). The alleged prohibition thus forms a secondary and ultimately dispensable

Home from the hill

As well as being a leading architectural historian Mary Miers is an editor at Country Life. For her latest book she has mined the magazine’s unmatchable picture library and the photographs are by Country Life regulars Simon Jauncey, who lives in Highland Perthshire, and the late Paul Barker, who sadly died before publication. His memory is duly saluted. Crucially the author is a Highlander by birth and domicile. Every week she commutes between London and her Black Isle home and she summers on South Uist. She knows the Highlands and Islands, or the Gàidhealtachd, from top to bottom: from Balmoral and the Highland balls of the Northern Meeting to crofters’

Forty years of comfort-eating

In 2015 a pair of linen drawers belonging to Queen Victoria sold at auction for over £12,000. In old age Queen Victoria swathed herself in wraps and loose gowns which artfully concealed her figure, and her official photographers were ordered to photoshop her outline. But these knickers with their 45” waistband make plain that the 5’-queen was borderline obese. Annie Gray has written a culinary biography of Queen Victoria which tells us what she ate. Breakfast was a hearty meal, often featuring lamb chops. For dinner Victoria ate rich French food, and her menus were always written in French. No plain Mrs Beeton-style cooking for the queen. Dinner began with

Mother Theresa

Tory activists last week were heard to refer to Mrs May as ‘Mummy’. No Corbynista calls their hero ‘Dad’. The human race is guided by myth as much as by logic, and mythology explains people to themselves more vividly than economics. The agony expressed in the liberal intelligent press is understandable. The sensible people who all voted Remain direct much of their fury against the Corbynistas who have taken over the Labour party. Fair enough. Interestingly, however, they attend so closely to what Tony Benn liked to call ‘the ish-oos’ that they ignore the bigger mythological picture. Last summer the country voted — very unwisely according to the sensible 48

Embarrassing Victorian bodies

The fetishisation of the Victorians shows no sign of abating. Over the past 16 years, since the centenary of the passing of the Victorian age, we have been treated to a never-ending stream of books about the monarch herself, the houses her subjects lived in, the railways they built and travelled on, their sexual peccadillos, the sensational murders that seized the headlines, and so on ad infinitum. Now we have a study devoted to that ultimate fetishistic object: the human body. According to Kathryn Hughes, biographical writing about the Victorians has been indifferent to their vital signs of life, movement, smell, touch and taste, behaving as if our ancestors were

No one turned a hair

The Benson family was one of the most extraordinary of Victorian England, and they certainly made sure that we have enough evidence to dwell on them. Edward White Benson was a brilliantly clever clerical young man of 23 when he proposed to his 11-year-old cousin Minnie Sidgwick. He had been the effective head of his family since his father’s death nine years earlier; Minnie, too, was fatherless. Despite doubts from Minnie’s mother, they agreed to marry when Minnie was 18. She, too, was clever — Gladstone famously described her as ‘the cleverest woman in Europe’ — but had no real attachment to Benson or to any other man. Her romantic